With 2016 rules in flux, Sprint Cup drivers asking whether the 2015 changes are working


CONCORD, N.C. – The last time NASCAR’s garage warriors gathered at Charlotte Motor Speedway, there was bubbly chatter over the encouraging signs of a proposed rules package for the 2016 season.

Two months later, the Sprint Cup Series has returned to the 1.5-mile track with a decidedly different tone about where its cars are headed next season.

After unveiling a two-step process last year that would include another reduction in downforce for 2016, NASCAR has backed off and said it might leave the 2015 rules (which featured a drop of 125 horsepower and roughly 30 percent less downforce) in place next year. Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said there was some pushback from teams worried about absorbing the costs of the rule changes.

After floating the idea of using the 2016 rules in Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Race, NASCAR scrapped the plan last month. Several Goodyear tests of the proposed 2016 alignment were eliminated this week, leaving only an October test at Auto Club Speedway on the books to try next year’s rules.

A March 10 session at Charlotte was the most recent test of the intended rules for 2016. Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr., Aric Alimrola and JJ Yeley. O’Donnell then said the goal was to develop ways to decrease corner speeds, which have spiked as much as 18 mph this season because drivers are on the throttle longer with reduced horsepower. That often decreases the opportunities for passing in the corners.

Kahne said Friday that he was pleased with how his No. 5 Chevrolet handled during the test.

“I like driving the car by myself way better than the car we have right now,” he said. “You could actually lift (off the accelerator) and move around on the track.

“It was kind of like it was back in 2004 or 2005 with the characteristics of the car and how it was handling. I was remembering things as I was driving. I was like, ‘Man, I used to have this feel.’ We don’t have that feel anymore with all the downforce we have.”

Kahne said, though, there were limits to how much could be learned about the new package in traffic with only four cars participating in the test. Truex said the tire also wasn’t optimum for judging the package.

“I think it was a good direction,” Truex said. “I just don’t think we had the right tire for the package. We didn’t have the right tire; we didn’t have enough cars. It was hard to gauge exactly what was better about it or what was worse about it.

“The four of us that were out there trying to race and see how the car ran in traffic, we didn’t get the feel that we thought we would with less downforce. The off-throttle time was a little bit more, but it seemed like the guy with clean air had more advantage than what we had with the 2015 rules. So, there was nothing clear. I wish we could have done it with more cars and had some more tires for options to really get to work on it because it had some things. The speeds were slower in the middle of the corner, which is what everybody is looking for. We just didn’t have the combination and the amount of guys to really put it to use.”

The feedback on the 2015 package has been a mixed bag, particularly on the 1.5-mile tracks that comprise the bulk of the schedule and where the rules are aimed at enhancing passing. In the four 1.5-mile races this season at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway, green-flag passes dramatically have risen nearly 40 percent – 12,669 in 2015 vs. 9,172 at comparative events in 2014. Lead changes also are up slightly in those four races (91 in 2015 vs. 85 last year)

But the Chevrolets of Jimmie Johnson (wins at Atlanta, Texas, Kansas) and Kevin Harvick (Las Vegas) have dominated the races, and several drivers have grumbled that an overreliance on aerodynamics still is hampering action and putting the leader at a distinct advantage. Friday’s Sprint Showdown at Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval featured segment winner Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer pulling away from the pack and cruising to easy wins.

“I absolutely believe the center-of-the-corner speeds are way too high,” Carl Edwards said last week at Kansas. “I feel like we should be out of the gas a lot more.

“I feel like our whole sport is based on guys racing stock cars around and manhandling the cars and being able to run close. I feel like we’ve gone farther and farther away from that because of all of the knowledge and engineering and the dependence on aero. I know NASCAR wants the same thing we all want. We want the best racing in the world and want it to be exciting, but I do fear we are getting to a point where the cars are so easy to drive and so dependent on clean air and going so fast and relying on engineering, that we are really losing the most fun part of it. I hope NASCAR continues to look at a much less aero-dependent package.”

Brad Keselowski said NASCAR’s quest to improve racing is perpetual.

“You have to keep a vision always,” the 2012 series champion said this week. “The racing can always be better. There’s no question about that. In that spirit, we should always keep working on it. To not work on it is to take a step backward because the teams will always iterate the cars to decrease the quality of competition. That’s our job. This sport requires a year-by-year reset to nullify the damage we do as teams to competition. It’s in itself ‘Spy Vs. Spy’ between the teams and NASCAR. It brings up an interesting discussion of how do you do that every year.

“It seems to me that in the five-and-a-half years I’ve spent in Sprint Cup, that discussion continues to get harder and harder every year with more and more disagreement about how to achieve a strong balance. There are certain things I would like to see for sure that I think can be achieved with cost but reasonable cost, but at this time there doesn’t appear to be enough collaboration to make that happen.’’

Clint Bowyer said the current corner speeds are “exactly opposite of what all the drivers were asking for and hoping for. … You need more off-throttle time to create a racing environment on the race track. If you’re wide open and you’re not lifting, I don’t know how you’re going to get around that car in front of you when they’re doing the same.”

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three


A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”


Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals


Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

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Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.



Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension


Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.